Christmas Reads! Heartwarming Romances

So the Thanksgiving has passed enough for Christmas to start to happen.  No more statute of limitations. The tree is probably on its way up at my house today while we are waiting for Snowmaggedon and I’ll be making chex mix.  I kind of want to get me a bottle of sweet local wine to get through the day but I don’t know if the store opens before the heavens do.  Looks like they may happen at the same points in time.

It’s a great day to post on heartwarming Christmas romances from England. These two sat on the TBR last year because I wanted to listen rather than read, so now they need their time.

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The Christmas Wish, Tilly Tennant

Esme, a young woman in the throes of an emotionally abusive relationship, decides to go against her boyfriend’s wishes to go on a vacation to Lapland that she was planning to take with her grandmother before the grandmother’s unexpected death.  Her trip changes her life in all the best ways possible, and as with anything marketed as a heartwarming Christmas romance, you can rest assured that the right man is duly located in the course of the story.  

So, I definitely got sucked into Esme’s story trying to find who she is and be true to that person and even though I knew she eventually had to ditch the jerk boyfriend, I wanted to know how it was going to play out and the secret that the man she is interested in seems to be withholding the whole time.  I liked her and I wanted her to be okay. I related to trying to find and stay true to oneself. The ending was gratifying and I loved the creativity of the trip to Lapland. I love how heartwarming romances incorporate elements of wish fulfillment that don’t have to do with romance: creative jobs, cool trips and settings, fun friends. Those things said, there were some slow pieces in this book that were redundant, could have been expressed in dialogue, and reduced.  Places were we were being shown enough where I didn’t think we needed quite as much telling. It’s good for light, distracting fun and to get you in the mood for the magic of the holiday.

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Snowy Nights at the Lonely Hearts Hotel, Karen King

A single young woman, Saffy, is prevailed upon by her older sister to throw a big Christmas party for singles at Christmas in her absence.  When she goes out to do this, she meets Logan, a handsome single father and a neighbor of her sister’s with his own heartbreak and disappointments.  This is a romance so you can figure out the end of the story, yes? It takes place in England, too, so there are the little word differences too.

This was definitely fun and lighthearted.  There was the usual romantic conflict, but nothing too intense and the parts that have you chewing your fingernails are not drawn out to the point of torture.  I have read enough romances to see differences in how much the author is willing to put you through before they give you what you want. This one has the drama but wants to keep it light and I appreciated that.  

I think the characters were the strongest part, especially her best friends in the middle of a romantic conflict themselves that didn’t torture too much.  And they made the party working out more feasible. It helped that Saffy was in her late twenties, and even though she was career focused and spent a lot of time out with friends, her friends were also moving into more serious relationships, so it helped set the stage for her getting more responsibility.  It would have been cringey to me to have her be the first one of her party friends to leave that world behind and be younger, as I didn’t move into a more settled life until I was close to 30. It was one of the low priced kindle reads and I have a hard time resisting, and it sat unread for a year because I really focused on what was available on audio last year.  It’s worth picking up for the Christmas spirit.

Are you warming up for the season?  My husband is trying to get the plow truck to work before the tree goes up.  And my son is resenting me for telling him to make Christmas cards for some grandparents so I have time to send them out.

Next week the Christmas reads may not be so light of heart.  Higher on the drama.

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Christmas Reads! Victorian Times

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week to kick off the holiday season.  If you haven’t kicked it off already, that is!  This week, for me, will be about making treats and desserts!

I mean, maybe an image of a turkey isn’t completely in line with my theme here but I like his salty look and it is their week to shine, anyway.  In a morbid sort of way.

I have decided that a strict policy on no thought to Christmas until after Thanksgiving is for those who are not parents.  I have already taken advantage of time away from my son to start picking up gifts here and there and being mindful of getting only what I think he will really love.  And won’t make me bonkers.  He doesn’t make a Christmas list because he will fill it with things he won’t play with.  And I’m going to make a list of fun things he can choose from to do in the coming year that aren’t me buying things and see if I can’t make that a tradition too.  Because I do a lot with him in the winter months and that should be represented too.

But this is not a blog on how I mom.  This is a blog on how I read.  And read I do!

Christmas isn’t the same for me without some reads from Victorian times in white people land.  They embody for me the darkness that was the whole reason Christmas came about…bringing light with the birth of Jesus.  I’m not super religious either, but anyone who has done a few seasons here with me know I’m all about the light of Christmas.  Christmas is perfect for romances too because Christmas is about love and light.

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva

This is a fictionalized version of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  In it, Charles Dickens finds himself in the beginning pushing back against the holiday, of all the excess and people asking him for things even though he’s a little short this year himself. He has to find Christmas again for himself, and does, while writing this, his most famous work.

Now, a few years ago I did all his Christmas stories for this blog, so I know that this was not a standalone work.  And in this story, Dickens is under pressure from his publishers to come out with something Christmas and a little less bleak (because to be fair he does write some really bleak stuff…do I need to insert a Bleak House joke here?) and has his own Scrooge-y character arc.  And Silva clearly did her research on the context of the holiday and that it was changing, being redefined at that time, revived from the puritan interpretations that had prevailed, which was cool, because I love social history of I’m finding just about everything.  Even Dickens in this story has to find the meaning of the holiday again.

Also, this was a cool book to be reading for NaNoWriMo.  It embodies the amazing highs and the terrible lows of being a writer.  I was going to say gifted, but some writers have had some pretty big success without being considered gifted.  Even seasoned writers have to go through a process to get to their material.  And it blends with the upcoming Christmas season, so I’m imagining, since I bought this one on audio, it will be revisited on other years.

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A Christmas Revelation, Anne Perry

An impoverished young boy in Victorian England spies a lovely woman in distress, right before Christmas.  As he has been taken in himself to be cared for, he is concerned for her and co opts the book keeper of the ‘clinic’ that he works and lives at to help him figure out what’s wrong and help her.  The book keeper has his own shady past, so he understands that this woman’s situation is likely one they want nothing to do with, but part of his taking part in this has to do with the spirit of Christmas, and wanting to keep some hope and wonder alive for this boy.  He is correct that she is embroiled in something unsavory, an unsolved mystery and wanting to avenge her father’s death.

This is the second of Anne Perry’s Christmas stories that I have read, the first one being A Christmas Hope.  Anne’s books are a blend of the Christmas holiday against the backdrop of darkness:  the shoestring lives of the poor and marginalized in Victorian England and some dark murder mystery.  I love the light and hope of Christmas but I’m also duly attracted to my darker reads, and if the number of historical fiction novels set in Victorian England is any indication, I’m not alone in my love of that context.  As much as I can’t romanticize it and consider myself a reasonable human being, I’m still drawn to that time and place. My library has them on audio sometimes and they are nice and short. I listened to this mostly on a Sunday afternoon following the letdown of reading nine of the same cozy mystery series and it was a nice transition into the Christmas reads. I have a feeling I’ll eventually work through all of these because it’s a delightful combination for me, and I love the sweet and light reads but they aren’t all I read. Even though they have been much of what I have read this year.

More Christmas Reads for the next few weeks!  Cozy heartwarming romances are a MUST, even though today’s reads were not completely heartwarming.  Christmas came to warm cold hearts, though, so it gets in the idea.  Stay tuned.

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Books I Missed in 2018, Part II

The first snow has hit already.

Just a crispy little dusting but enough to make us wonder about our safety on the roads and remind us of the months ahead.  I guess I got too comfortable cleaning up storm damage on the weekends (some old trees came down in a crazy storm on Halloween night, of all nights) and standing by a bonfire.  I remember other years we were burning leaves well into December.

I am merely getting through the 8 last, darkest weeks of the year in terms of tolerating driving around in the dark every evening.

Christmas reads are duly being consumed but it’s not time just yet for such things.  I have two more books today that I missed in 2018 that I was happy to get in this year.  These novels are thick with all the things that need to be said.  Which means I took frequent breaks into genre stuff, but life is all about balance, no?

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Otessa Moshfegh

A woman of privilege around the turn of the millenia is looking to escape her feelings and participation in life by sleeping. She uses a cocktail of drugs to truly pull this off, and through an examination of her past, the reader gradually isn’t surprised why she needs this time to be alienated from an adult life that on the outside looks perfect.  She is looking for renewal once she has slept enough.

So this one was not a big priority on the missed in 2018 list, but it was on Audible sale, and routinely came up on best of the year lists, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I almost put it down after 20 minutes of listening to the absolute waste and squandering of privilege. She launches straight into how she just wastefully spends money and sleeps while barely caring for herself, throwing out expensive underwear only worn once to not do laundry, living in an expensive apartment on her inheritance and dirtying her expensive furniture beyond salvation.  Just filth and sloth and privilege and I almost couldn’t do it.

Just in time, my curiosity took over.  Before I was so turned off I DNFed a well reviewed book 20 minutes in, I started to get curious about what led this woman here, and led to her deep depression, complete with lethargy and feeling that participating in life was pointless and to be actively avoided.  I wanted to know where the author was going to take it. I also thought because of the cover it was a woman in Victorian times where I believe that sleeping all the time to deal with sadness (back then, madness?) of someone privileged could be more Gothic and dramatic.  But no, it was a woman trying to recover from her childhood, just doing it on a floating cloud of privilege. It was funny, the psychiatrist was hilarious, the art gallery too, but it was sadly commentary and true to life. It wasn’t that much of a reach for these caricatures to be believable.  And I felt sad for her friend Reva, struggling with her own feeling of pointlessness in a more common way. Reva reminded me so much of people I have met in my life who have felt empty. And then when the narrator breaks into her apartment when she is at work, I can’t get some of the images from that out of my mind.  So astute, especially on top of Reva’s history, shown through the narrator’s participation in her mother’s funeral that she would not have attended but decided to when in a haze of Ambien and woke up on the train on the way there with a suit.  

It’s my first time reading Moshfegh, and she was on my list from the accolades that Eileen got that I never got to either, and this book has been haunting me in the weeks since I read it.  Despite my crazy busy full time mom life, I come back to thinking about it in times my brain is slowed down. I think that’s a true testament to the power of her writing. She hooked me into something I initially found very off putting and then I spend weeks still thinking about it?  So powerful.

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There, there Tommy Orange

These are interwoven narratives of native Americans living in modern America, their stories and what it means to be native, culminating in an ill fated pow wow.

I hate to sum up the book I believe I saw on every best of the year list and heard it mentioned on my book blogs in one sentence, but this book really isn’t about the plot.  I think all the ones I read as something I missed in 2018 that was on best of the year lists was more about the message they convey about our culture and times, and this one was about the modern native experience in the United States.  It was one of those that has the astute observations of the world, and for me, it described the native experience, the poverty and the substance use and the trauma, through stories. It had a lot to say but through characters you grew to care about, even ones too mired in their substance use to care for their children, which is something I can have a hard time with, being a mom and working with kids.  But it reminded me that I’m privileged and so very intact in my WASP upbringing, my white religious ancestors coming over while we were still colonies and setting up shop here. And I’m imagining why it’s been listed as such an important book of the year. Good fiction nowadays finds its way to making powerful statements through stories. I suppose it always has, but I guess the definition of what is a powerful and important statement through the years has changed, hence the Pulitzer awardees not always being stories about the plight of white men and wars.  Now the books make statements on climate change, marginalized people, the absurdity of modern life.

Like everyone else, I recognize the value of this book and that it’s truly well written.  I also had to take breaks with my diversion books because this was heavy. Characters I cared about made bad choices I could understand but still didn’t want them to make.  Bad things happened to everyone. I won’t tell you I feel privileged in the fact that I can even take breaks for lighter things. But I needed my things. I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad I’m adept at changing up my narratives so I can take breaks from the train wrecks I see coming.

Because Thanksgiving is sooo late this year I’m hoping that next week isn’t too soon for the holiday reads.  It’s 30 days out from Christmas and I am taking breaks from posting today to look at Christmas gifts for my son.   I’m not ready to deck the halls, but I’m not minding the warmup into the holiday season.

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What I Missed in 2018

Ah, we have made it to Veteran’s weekend.

I breathed a sigh of relief on Halloween night when my son came home with his bucket of candy and peeled off his Jack Skellington costume.  So much mischief managed in the course of a month.  I see why parents feel that time slips past them before they have a moment to notice.

Things slow down a little as the year winds down for me.  I finished my Scary Reads in time to pack in some books I wanted to get to last year when I was noveling like a fool before I get into reading Christmas reads.  I just started reading for Christmas this week, but I don’t like to do so in the early fall and I’m listening to spooky podcasts to get my spooky fix.  Stories I’d missed were a good buffer between them.

And I binged an entire series in there, something that’s rare for me.

Books I Missed in 2018:

I told my BFF recently that I have read too much this year.  She wanted to know if it’s really a thing. I think it is if you’re supposed to be writing, too, and with how much I did in 2018 I missed some reads that I know deserved my attention.  And I didn’t bang out another novel this year while I was consuming books. I did get writing done, certainly more than I had in years past, but not so consumed with one project at the exclusion of reading novels.  I want to do NaNo but with the fact I can’t even read intense books without needing diversion breaks because of how my life feels, I’m not sure I can handle the intensity of trying to bang out a draft in a month.  So much luck to all those doing the NaNo though.

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Washington Black, Esi Eduygan

A boy born into slavery in the Barbados in the 1800s is taken under the wing of the plantation owner’s brother, Titch, a gentleman scientist with the ability to follow his plots and dreams.  The boy is able, through his affiliation with this man, to escape his fate on the plantation, but only to be deserted by the man who freed him in the first place. He’s a freed man who wasn’t raised to be or prepared to be out in the world on his own and spends his life wondering about and pining after this mercurial man and the mystery of his distant, white family.

If you asked me what I wished I’d read when it came out, this was in the top three, with Circe and There, there. I read Circe and thoroughly enjoyed it earlier this year.  I think my draw to this one was I thought there would be something more magic feeling about this book but I’m not sure why. I guess I thought that because it was so popular, on many best book of the year lists, that there would be something more feel-good about it. One of those relationships between a man and his servant that isn’t ever equal but has strong positive aspects.  I don’t know.  It could be my privilege speaking that I’d even expect that. I’ve read enough on books set in the times of slavery to know better. And the slavery part was completely sad and terrible. Even when Wash was becoming literate and discovering his passion for documenting the natural world, which is always one of my favorite things to read about (Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light we Cannot See, etc), it was apparent how dangerous it could be for him to have these abilities.  I can’t imagine a world in which my intellectual interests and passions put me in danger. It was really about attachment and how we get on in the world emotionally, moving between pivotal relationships that shape who we are, and in Wash’s case, devastate us. It is probably one of the best books of the year because it doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the time and how people treated one another, a dog eat dog kind of world, even in families.  It was more sad than I expected it to be, which is I guess what I’m saying. I still liked it. It still made me think and transported me to a long gone world.

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Children of Blood and Bone, Tomy Adeyemi

People in a magical world, called Magi, are suppressed by their government, not allowed to use their magical abilities.  Zelie, a magi traumatized by watching the execution of her mother, has the chance to bring magic back into the world. She gets paired up with Amari, the princess, whose father the king was responsible for the execution of Zelie’s magi mother, and has to fight both her own growing powers and the monarchy to bring the world back the way it should be.

This one had a solid, clear, magic system.  I have talked about magic rules before in this post, any lover of magic like myself knows that any system has its costs and benefits.  I also liked that they characters repeated these connections a few times to keep them close in my mind. It’s a 500 page book and the lines get complicated, so it would be easy to lose the lines of magic and what the rules and purposes are.  I think the author really works to avoid confusion in her system. She states at the end that this book is really about the oppression and police brutality in our world, and even though I suspected a larger goal and meaning in her story, I didn’t feel that it was too moralistic and preachy.  Teenagers finding their powers and what they are going to do with them in the world, alliances, thinking about what lessons we will choose to take from our families and what we will do differently. And a plot that moves constantly throughout. I don’t know if I’m buckling up for the sequel, but I’m glad that I got to this 2018 release that I had had my eye on.

So both of these books are about privilege, a race being suppressed and controlled by another race, and places where bridges/relationships are made between the two groups unintentionally.  Because we all manage to connect regardless of what structures get put in place to prevent that.

Next week I’ll be posting on two more books I missed in 2018 that made the lists.

Is the week after that too early for Christmas reads, even though Thanksgiving is late this year?  It’s technically a month out from the holiday and even as this posts I have one read under my belt already to be ready…asking for me.

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Scary Reads! Day of the Dead

I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but many towns where I live moved Trick or Treating to nights where it wouldn’t be so rainy.  Not where I live.  They declared a week back that Trick or Treating should always be Halloween, which is fine, easier to plan, but with the multitudes of Halloween activities that are had now, it’s not as if kids are living the Halloween of my day, even if they are out there in the rain.  In my day there was a parade, a Trick or Treat night,  and a bunch of ugly plastic costumes that my mother refused to buy, so we would scrap together old dance costumes and hope we didn’t have to ruin the look with wearing coats over them.  Or we dug through our parent’s old clothes and were gypsies or hippies. There weren’t the variety of nice costumes, or a hundred Trunk or Treats in daylight, or publicly hosted parties.  My son wears his costume about five times every year now to different Halloween events, and there are more I could take him to.  It’s no longer the past.  The 80s had very few things right in terms of raising kids.  It’s not the same world. If someone wants to make it so kids don’t have to tromp through the rain for candy in the dark, so be it.

I hope everyone’s Halloween was lovely.

But really what I wanted to post about was a book that made me think about the Day of the Dead, and honoring ancestors, as that holiday also passed this week on Friday.  This is the last of my Scary Reads series, which is sad, as I’ve spent weeks enjoying these books.

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Labyrinth Lost,  Zoraida Cordova

Alex, a young witch born into a Latinx family of witches (brujas and brujos) is afraid of her powers and how they have ruined her family, so when they start to manifest in earnest, she decides to do something about that.  She ends up banishing her family to the afterlife, where she needs to travel to rescue them for her mistake and accept her powers and her crazy family in the meantime. The afterlife of course has its own troubles, and then there’s the handsome mysterious boy who helps her for unclear reasons, and then the best friend who finds her way along for the ride.

This is the closest to a witch book that I get in my Scary Reads posts this year, and I didn’t read it for the witch aspect, I read it because it fit with something to honor the Day of the Dead. Her magic ceremony doesn’t happen on the day of the dead, but it has to do with family on the other side of the veil and had the feel of Latin/South American culture to give it that flavor.  She is a teen with a big family with unsolved mysteries, and she’s just a normal teen considering her impact on the world as she gets older and comes into herself. Like so many teens, she has no idea the extent of the influence she will be able to have on the world. I liked that even though she was magic she had so many normal things about her. Even her magic was a normal thing in her family, with her other two sisters having already accepted and using their powers.  I liked that, how normal she was, even though she felt that she didn’t fit in anywhere. But fitting in more becomes part of her journey. Being a teen is a teen, no matter where you are and if you are magical. The next story in the series focuses on her older sister Lula.

So, just one book this week and a good amount of my griping about people who are glorifying the way kids were raised in the 80s.

The next two months I’ll have Christmas reads, but not too early, I promise, because I haven’t even started reading those yet.  I love Christmas but I can get burned out on it.  I caught up on some reads I missed in 2018 as well as I still have a category left for Book Riot and it’s nothing graphic!  I have been binge reading a paranormal mystery series just because and I don’t know if I’ll have space to post on that.  Stuff.  Good thing I’ve had reading to get me through this year.

I’ve needed it.

Onto November!

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It’s Halloween!

Yes, the day I use to justify supernatural reading in the summer is here!  I’ll be following a Jack Skellington around my town tonight and feeling that Halloween feeling 🙂

Taking my son trick or treating is something I love about being a mom.

What I don’t always love about being a mom is trying to share a book with my son that’s a little advanced but he’s getting help from me, and he still doesn’t want to do it.  I have to work hard to make a reader.  Slowly trying to make one.

I put this on audio for us on a car ride and he picked up the comic book I said he could read after trying it for an hour and I devoured it myself, on a full cast audio production.

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The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

A boy is raised in a cemetery by ghost and other supernatural creatures to keep him safe after his family is murdered.  Of course there’s a Neil Gaiman style conspiracy plot behind the reason why the family is murdered and the boy is significant, but that’s revealed later, as his supernatural experiences growing up with creepies is more the emphasis here.  It’s a fun story, a kids book about being a kid in an unusual circumstance, with more of the plot and the larger picture revealed as, as happens in our own experiences growing up, he becomes older and learns more of the world.

Neil comments in his book that he had to have his own children grow up to really get a look at what it’s like to send a grown child out in the world, to talk about what it is like for the creatures he is leaving behind.  I loved how he worked out the details of how these childhood issues could still be addressed with undead parents, keeping him sequestered in a cemetery, and how he also takes on some of the abilities of the creatures, to be able to ‘disappear’ even though being of flesh he technically can’t do so.  To be able to see them when he is living with them and losing the ability as he gets older, as we all do.  It’s really about growing up in a family, even if it’s in a supernatural setting, as NG is wont to do.

Last year I reviewed Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree for my special post, and it was more specific to the actual holiday, but I believe a child on both sides of the veil and engaging in a supernatural childhood fits the bill for a Halloween post well enough.

There’s one supernatural read post left for the season of scary and the thin veil.  November is a bit of  a mish mash because Thanksgiving is so late I don’t want to dive into the Christmas reads too early, and there are other books I wanted to catch up on.  Still one BookRiot book left to do and I’m on it, has to be posted somewhere.

I thought about NaNo, even revising a novel I am still working on for some new fun parts, but I have barely been able to keep up with my monthly writing and work is, well, still exhausting and this time of year I’m shuttling my child to all sorts of events.  So as much as I want to do NaNo, I need it to be in January or something when everything slows way down and I shift into survive the depressing winter mode.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

Scary Reads! Traversing the Veil

My son is seven today!  Happy Birthday baby boy!  Today is family stuff, presents and brownies instead of a chocolate birthday cake.  Brownies without nuts!  Because that’s how Daddy likes them and it is decidedly not Daddy’s day!  I love how being a mom has changed my heart and added dimension to my personhood.

As Halloween looms near, I think the stories that talk about when the veil between our world and the next thins out become especially relevant.   Never mind these are two books that have camped on the TBR forever and were read in the middle of the summer when I needed distraction (I read a ton this summer), but they were saved for the post that is up when the Halloween festivities begin to pick up in speed.  This week will be parties and Trick or Treat.  I already went to the big party that the YMCA has with my son every year, where you can smell other people’s bodies, scroll your phone while your kid takes a million trips through the bounce house, and get candy you’ll probably have to throw out.  Excellent.  (PS I was sarcastic long before I got pregnant).

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City of Ghosts, VE Schwab 

A young girl and her ghost best friend with experience on both sides of the veil travel to Scotland with her parents, where she encounters and has to defeat a dark supernatural force/antagonist/villain and get back to her side of the veil while she still can, all the while trying to understand her gifts and the relationship with her companion.

VE Schwab is one of my hoarded authors, where I buy numerous books before having actually read them.  This one broke the seal because it was sitting in plain view of the YA section of the library and needed me to disregard the usual reading plan I am following for blogging.  I took it home and it swept me away for two nights in the dead of winter. Yes. Perfect. As compelling as the dark antagonist was to the protagonist, Cassidy Blake. It was a quick read, being YA, and although you worried for her getting back in time and felt for the ghosts trapped in one of my favorite settings, Scotland, it didn’t get too tangled up and you knew she was going to be okay. I bet it would have scared the pants off me, though, if I was the intended age of the audience.  It was a nice taste of the author’s world building and the next one is in Paris! I’m all about ghosting in European cities that I am too anxious and busy to visit myself.  It looks like it has something to do with the catacombs, which I have been in and have always thought would be the perfect setting for a story.

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Ghost Bride, Yangsee Choo

A middle class Malay woman in the early 1900s is asked by an influential family to marry the recently dead first son.  The son who wants to marry her begins to haunt her dreams, and in an effort to get away from him ends up entering the land of the dead herself and becoming privy to the family’s tangled scandals on both sides of the grave.  Not to mention that along the way she wants to marry the nephew that will now inherit, a man she was interested in before she knew who he was.  

Full of intrigue, I kept thinking I knew where the book was going, but it always surprised me.  So much happens, especially in the beginning that I kept thinking, why is this being revealed this early on? What’s she going to do with the rest?  But the author fills the page with more and more tangles and depth to the story. For example, she meets the guy she likes but thinks he’s not of her class and can’t marry him, but then finds out that not only is he of her class, but he had been intended for her once, and she likes him and he likes her, and it’s not that far in and I’m like, well, what’s getting in the way now?  Oh, plenty got in the way. It all had to come out fast because there were so many more events based on it. In my own writing I have been trying to work on deepening my plots and fleshing them out, and I admired the way she did this.  

I have wanted to read this for years and I had been hoping that it was a book in translation, but it didn’t look like it was, but I never took it back off my kindle.  Then in a bout of BookRiot reads that got intense on me, it reached out to me from my downloaded books list. I wanted a story. I wanted to be diverted from intense themes and brought into another world.  Yes. And as I said, I kept thinking back to the similar ideas in City of Ghosts but done so differently overall, apart from the fact that one is for adults and one is YA. The afterlife lends itself to so many juicy interpretations.

She has just released The Night Tiger and it might end up jumping my reading plan because it looks at me from the library.  Don’t ask me why I still check out the library when I already have a reading plan in place. It’s led to a lot of line jumpers this year.  Shameful or shameless, I can’t decide.  

This week will feature a bonus Halloween post, as yet again I have a fitting story for the day.  Stay tuned!

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Scary Reads! Ghosts in High School

Is it obvious that I work with children?  I would miss the rhythm of the school year if I only worked with adults.  I like the traditions and structure involved with children. I think I enjoy trick or treating more with my son than I did as I got older as a child. I certainly decorate more for Halloween and Christmas than my childless self did.  I like talking with kids about school events, holidays, and breaks.

This post is about ghosts in high school, but it deals with the settings in different ways.  In one, the protagonists/main characters are teens, and in the other, they are not.  This presents two different stories of going in between the veil in a school setting.

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Absent, Katie Williams

Paige finds herself dead after a fall from the roof of her high school.  When she dies she starts hanging out with two other ghosts bound to the school:  one a girl who also died recently at the school and another who died years ago, but also in his teen years.  Right away she finds out that students in the school believe her death to have been a suicide rather than the accident she believes it to be. She sets out to dispel this rumor by temporarily possessing friends, influencing their statements and behaviors toward this end.  Of course the story of her death is more complicated than initially believed.

Another one that I couldn’t put down.  I know I say that often, but this is the scary books part of the year and there’s a reason I got everything read before the end of August, and it’s YA and I’m shameless in my love of YA.  I love that Paige is trying to work on an age typical goal and is so believable. She still cares about her crush, a guy that liked her but didn’t want to be an official couple with her because she wasn’t cool enough just before the fateful accident. She hasn’t changed as she crossed the veil, continuing to be a sarcastic teenager who cares what people think about her and the knowledge that she will be irrelevant soon enough as they move on with their lives. Her best friend, the popular girl, her crush, and the burner are all believable players.  And she continues to learn and grow from her interactions with them, even as she is a ghost.

Other than being engaging and believable, the story has good twists and turns and I feel it deals well with the issues of teen death, particularly suicide. Lots of teens think about taking their lives, even if just in passing, and this book is frank about the implications of that and the permanence of a choice like that.  How that choice affects the survivors. Why it’s important to Paige to dispel that rumor, which ultimately leads to her discovering the truth.

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A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

Helen is a ghost caught in this world for reasons unbeknownst to her, her most recent host being a high school English teacher.  She finds a student suddenly noticing her in class, a student she finds out is another spirit like her (James) that has found the empty shell of a living body to be alive again. They fall in love and to be able to be together, she finds an empty teenage girl walking around to get into.  They learn about who they were as humans as well as the lives of the hapless teenagers whose bodies they have gotten into and use.

So, like I said, this ghost hangs out with a teacher but is not a teenager.  She gets into a teen body but she did not die as one, and talks about her time on this earth, cleaving to hosts, relying on living humans who don’t know she is there, people whose lives she watches but cannot participate in.  It sets her up to fall in love with the other spirit that she finds the way that she does; it’s a way to be fully alive after at least a hundred years of a strange half existence. It somewhat excuses the terrible recklessness of the spirits that affects their hosts so pervasively, but in that sense, it got a little intense in places.  I felt for the teenage hosts (Jenny and Billy), wherever their spirits were, as Helen and James turn their lives upside down without their knowledge or consent. It balanced out the places where this story was slower and sadder, and it couldn’t have just been too intense or too slow or I wouldn’t have been able to hang in there. But it was still deeply unsettling.  

It was decidedly more literary than YA in its writing and tone, and in the fact that the protagonist isn’t a teenager but an ancient being, and that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp it all as a teenager.  Certainly not in the way I could as an adult, looking at the implications of the story as much as the poetic writing. I still liked it, but because of her finding her love in a high school class, I thought the boy was mortal and I was getting into something else altogether.

While poking around Goodreads for the cover and to look at reviews I saw there is a sequel and some of the reviews have encouraged me to pick it up.  I’d like to know where Jenny and Billy’s spirits were as Helen and James drove their bodies around like stolen cars and the story speaks to that. Yes.

Next week, as we plunge deeper into fall, my posts will be about darting on the other side of the veil.  Because Halloween is about that veil thinning out, easier to slip through.  There are reads for that!!

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Scary Reads! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses II

And here we are in the first weekend of October.  My son got my husband to start decorating the house on Tuesday for the holiday.  It started with being allowed to just get out bins to see what we have to those bins being emptied and my husband further outlining his artistic vision for the venture.  Trees are changing too, more than I noticed before.

Like I said last week, the haunted houses reads were meant to scrape out the TBR.  Every year I make a list of books I already have that could get read for that season’s round and I am experiencing a certain extra level of satisfaction about putting checkmarks next to books that keep going on the list because they had not been read yet.

Spoiler alert:  TBR reading will be a big part of the blog next year.

But onto the second haunted house books post!

One of the few things I love more than a scary book that is getting crossed off the TBR is a scary epistolary book!  Piecing together the story behind a haunting lends itself well to many different sources and viewpoints being shared in the course of the novel.  Both of these haunted house books were pieced together through various viewpoints that become apparent as the novel moves forward.   Like I said in my last post, it’s about the story behind the haunting, not just the spirit activity that is enthralling.  

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The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero

A man and his friend move into a mansion that he inherited from an uncle he didn’t know. He starts immediately with the dreams and the intense occurrences, from haunting to break ins.  They have to piece together both what is going on with the house and the secret activity that went on inside it during his uncle’s life. This has a more in depth plot than a re enacted tragedy by a ghost, it also is about a secret society that stumbles upon a wonder of the world and dedicate themselves to a game to discover its secrets and the messages it is trying to give.  Lots of twisty turns in this one to keep you guessing.

So this was on my TBR forever and kept missing the scary reads train, and I have to admit that some of it was due to not being on audio.  Books I can easily get on audio are the ones that get consumed first, especially with a cozy feel to them. But when I realized this was epistolary novel, I got right to it.  Snippets of information from everyone’s perspective is addicting to me, probably because it’s similar to my job as a child therapist that I love. No problems blowing through the backlit pages while nestled in my bed at night.  I also liked that it wasn’t just about ghosts and they find an explanation for the dreams as well as the story behind the haunting. There is a whole game, a whole secret society of the rich, a guarded secret. The characters were interesting and their relationships were ambiguous, the surprising events unfolded at a decent pace.  It was absorbing, and I let it go unread way too long.

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The Ghost Notebooks, Ben Dolnick

Nick and Hannah are recently engaged and move into a museum in upstate New York with a shady past, where Hannah has accepted a job as curator.  They move from the crowds of NYC to the isolation of a made up town near Poughkeepsie. As they live there, the woman is consumed in the house and tragedy strikes.  Her fiance becomes consumed in figuring out the details of how this museum led her to her demise.

Another one that just grabbed me and kept me going, one that I was also ambivalent about until I discovered the information comes in pieces from other sources. I actually had read half of this before having to make a drive and bought the audio with three hours to go because I didn’t want to stop reading it to drive. The mystery is compounded by the secrets that Hannah holds of her psychiatric past, and that the perspective isn’t always hers in the story. The mystery does get resolved, the layers tied up, and I always prefer that in scary stories (although we know based on my love of Ania Ahlborn that I don’t always require it). It was well written and astute.

I lived in and near Poughkeepsie for a year, and I know that it can be strangely country and isolated in some places, while being close to a giant city.  It also has its pockets of urbanity, but that’s not the setting for this story. I liked downstate. I wish I enjoyed it more while I was there, but I was distracted with figuring out the next steps of my life.  It’s an interesting setting for a story with a couple looking to change up their lives from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

The only part of this that was a little off to me was the pacing. A chunk of the action happens in the first half, and it’s not a long book so it goes along at a clip.  I didn’t expect the tragedy as soon as it came along. I knew Hannah was unraveling but she kept it fairly to herself. But then there seems to be a long stretch when Nick is trying to make sense of everything where it slows right down.  Maybe this was intentional; often, when we urgently need answers to something it can feel like moving through jello to answer our questions, especially when people are trying to protect their secrets and not allow us access to the answers we need.  I don’t regret buying an audiobook to listen to half. Love my ghosty reads, especially ones with complicated relationships and reaches into the past. Recommend this too.

Next week I will be reviewing books about supernatural creatures.  Not witches, as this year I didn’t read about them, unless you count my post about Day of the Dead for witches.   I love witches, so much I can connect to about them, but this year it ended up being ghosts and hauntings and creatures, and that deserves some love too.  It can’t  be all witchy reads!

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